Future Reflections                                                                                         Summer/Fall 2005

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The Many Faces of Reading

by Deborah Kendrick

Reprinted from the Fall, 2004, issue of the Buckeye Bulletin, the newsletter of the NFB of Ohio.

Editorís Note: As a child, summer meant many things to me: swimming, climbing trees, home-made ice-cream, playing with cousins at the family reunion; but most of all it meant freedom: freedom to read what I wanted, when I wanted, for as long as I wanted. I donít remember that I ever thought about becoming a writer or, heaven-forbid, an editor, but no doubt all those long hours of summer reading helped pave the path that eventually led to that destination. If your blind son, daughter, or student is such a child (or if you want to nudge them in that direction), you will appreciate the following advice from a blind woman who has had a long, distinguished, and successful career as a writer. Here is what Deborah Kendrick has to say on the subject:

Deborah Kendrick
Deborah Kendrick

When people ask for advice on pursuing a career in writing, the first and most important guideline I give them is to read, read, read. Read everything you can get your hands (or eyes or ears) on. Read fiction, nonfiction, history, mystery, serious works of literature, and entertaining popular fiction. Read magazines, newspapers, lots of both, and then add any other reading into the mix that you can think of.

But you donít have to want to be a writer to be an avid reader. There was a time when being blind and having a voracious appetite for reading was a pretty unfortunate combination. Today it could be argued that blind people have access to more reading material and more ways of approaching that material than their sighted friends.

If youíre reading this newsletter, chances are pretty good that you know about the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped Braille and Talking Book program. If not, call (800) 362-1262 if you live in northern or central Ohio or (800) 582-0335 if you live in the southern part of the state. You may also visit <www.loc.gov/nls> on the Web to learn more. You probably also know about Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic, a wonderful resource particularly for students, providing books in audio formats. Call (800) 221-4792 or visit <www.rfbd.org> to learn more.

I am a frequent borrower from both of these outstanding services. I usually have a small four-track cassette recorder in my purse or backpack for grabbing a few pages of a news magazine or book. In addition to familiar books and magazines in hard-copy Braille, I love downloading them from the NLS Web-Braille site for reading on my Braille note-taker. But my daily routine incorporates many other devices and systems for accessing printed material. Here are a few favorites:

BibleCourier

About the size of a cell phone, the BibleCourier contains the entire Old and New Testaments in one tiny unit that can go with you anywhere. You can easily and rapidly search the Bible by book, verse, and chapter to find a particular passage. You can read continuously, bookmark favorite passages, raise and lower the volume, speed the reading up or slow it down. The reading is delivered by very clear synthetic speech. A simple telephone-style keypad on the front controls all of the BibleCourierís functions.

The BibleCourier was developed through an effort launched by the Lutheran Braille Evangelism Association (LBEA), who contracted with Springer Design to manufacture it. As part of its ministry LBEA sells the Bible at the subsidized cost of $100 to any blind person in the USA. Your $100 (which includes shipping costs) covers one talking Bible, accompanying ear buds, and the userís guide on one cassette. The complete userís guide is also loaded into the BibleCourier itself, so that if you ever forget how to perform a task, you can just zip back to the manual and look it up. To order online, go to <www.lbea.org> or send an email to Rev. Dennis Hawkinson at <lbea@qwest.net>. Rev. Hawkinson says, incidentally, that the intention behind the BibleCourier was to offer a talking Bible that was portable and easy to use, even for people who donít use computers.

The Creative Labs MuVo and Audible.com

Audible.com is a commercial service that sells audio books online that are recorded by professional narrators. These are the same books that you can buy on tape or compact disk at many bookstores, but are usually less expensive and offer you several ways of listening. Once you purchase a book, it is yours to download as many times as you like. You can listen to it on your computer, burn it to a CD, or transfer it from your computer into a handheld device that will play Audible.com files.

The device I am using is the Creative MuVo. About the size of a pack of chewing gum, the MuVo can be put into any tiny pocket or hung round your neck with the cord that is included. To transfer books to the MuVo, you plug it into your computerís USB port and transfer. You can then listen through the ear-buds provided (or, if you prefer, through some other headset or by connecting portable speakers to the MuVoís earphone jack). The sound is remarkably clear for such a small device, and the controls are extremely simple. You can play, pause, and go forward or back in one book or among books.

Audible.com offers about 20,000 titles, including classics, best-sellers, fiction, and nonfiction in all categories, as well as several radio broadcasts from National Public Radio and a few periodicals. There are various plans, but a Basic Listener membership costs $14.95 a month and entitles you to one book and one periodical each month and a free Creative MuVo. (If you mention my name when you register, Iíll get a chance to win a prize.)

Many other devices available through Audible.com and elsewhere will play their content. The MuVo is simple to use and is currently being offered free to new subscribers.

Your Public Library

Iím not talking about the wonderful Talking Book program that sends your books through the mail. Iím talking about that library in your neighborhood that all your sighted neighbors use. The audio book offerings both on tape and CD these days are remarkable, and even small branch libraries have collections. Books are both abridged and unabridged, so youíll need to ask which you are getting. Drop in and ask the librarian to do a bit of browsing with you or request particular authors or titles. Iíve found that when new books by popular authors are released the audio version is often available at the public library at the very same time as the print version. The books play on any commercial tape or CD player and will, of course, also play on your NLS Talking Book machine.

NFB-NEWSLINE®

No list of reading sources would be complete without our number one source of daily newspapers (and now some outstanding magazines). NFB-NEWSLINE® now has 110 newspapers from around the country as well as AARP the Magazine, The Economist, and The New Yorker. When I have to wait somewhere--for a taxi, for a doctorís appointment, for a meeting to start, or to get my hair cut--I pull my cell phone out of my pocket and read the paper with NFB-NEWSLINE®, just as sighted people around me are doing with print. The search feature allows me quickly to locate a story someone else may have mentioned to me or to check on news of my favorite celebrity. Give yourself a present and spend a little time learning the NFB-NEWSLINE® commands. You know of course to call (888) 882-1629. To sign up or to get help, the national number is (866) 504-7300 and the Ohio number is (866) 391-0841.

Once reading for a blind person meant either a Braille book or another human being reading aloud. Those are lovely faces--but we now have many more. There are many devices and services for reading that I havenít touched on in this article. The above, however, are some of my own favorite ways--most of them used daily--to feed an insatiable information and entertainment habit.

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